TGomL: Doomdark’s Revenge (ZX Spectrum, 1984)

Note: this post is expanded from one in my old blog, The Games of My Life.

In 1984, there was a little game for a little 48 KB machine which amazed everyone – nobody had done something like that with a computer (even a “bigger” one) before. You may have heard about it. I’ve even mentioned it here, some time ago: Mike Singleton’s The Lords of Midnight. ((I also used it as an obviously — and intentionally — unfair comparison with The Lord of the Rings Online with DirectX11.))

In the same year (!!!), Mike surpassed himself, with a game that was even larger, more complex, more detailed, more varied… and still used only 49152 bytes of RAM. It wasn’t very well named, though. The game was Doomdark’s Revenge.

Doomdark's Revenge - starting screen Doomdark's Revenge - meeting Torinarg the Barbarian

Why wasn’t that a good name? Because Doomdark, the villain from the first game, was, indeed, dead, after his defeat in LoM. Really dead, not “undead” or “sleeping until the stars are right”. The so-called “revenge” was to be by his daughter, Shareth the Heartstealer, from the land of Icemark (to the north of the land of Midnight), who was even more powerful and evil than his father (aren’t they always?), and who wanted Luxor the Moonprince to pay… because she had wanted the pleasure of killing her father for herself. Yes, you read that right. Surely a biting commentary on the nature of father-daughter relationships. To that end, she kidnapped Morkin, son of Luxor the Moonprince, the main character, took him to Icemark, and Luxor, an army of a thousand riders, and a couple of friends travelled between lands in order to rescue Morkin and bring an end to the threat of Doomdark’s family once and for all. (This story was told in detail in the excellent novella that accompanied the game.)

But the game was amazing. Instead of the “us versus them” of LoM, this game had several different races, with hierarchies of command (lieges and vassals, and their vassals, and so on), who moved around by themselves, waged war, and all that was mostly unpredictable. Every lord had characteristics, like being good, or evil, or reckless, or brave, or cowardly, or slow, or treacherous, and so on. The villainess, Shareth, also had her own goals, recruiting lords and their armies to her cause.

How unpredictable was the game? So much that, sometimes, Shareth herself was killed in battle, far away from you. (no, that didn’t end the game – you also had to rescue Morkin, and return to Midnight, remember?)

A far cry from today’s largely scripted games, isn’t it? And, unfortunaly, an idea that was never seen again, as far as I know. The villain is either stopped by the hero, or isn’t stopped at all. I know it makes things more epic, but… Doomdark’s Revenge, with its unpredictability, made me feel that, while I could affect the world, it didn’t revolve around me. (The other extreme of that equation, by the way, is a typical MMORPG – where, sure, the world doesn’t revolve around you, but you also can’t affect it in any lasting way, because the world is more like a “playground”, and it must remain mostly the same for other players. “Look, but don’t touch.” ((since I wrote that part in 2005, there have been some advances in MMORPGs in that respect, one of them being the idea of “phasing” parts of the world, so that, say, if a town is destroyed during a quest’s storyline, it stays destroyed for players who have already gone through that quest; those who didn’t, see it as intact. What happens is that the game actually sends them to different, but similar, areas.)) But I digress.)

Comparing it to its predecessor, the game has, in my opinion, both advantages and disadvantages. The complexity of characters and relationships are, of course, great, and so is the unpredictability, and the fact that there are no defined “good” and “evil” sides: everyone but Shareth is theoretically recruitable, though they are only amenable to being so by characters with similar traits; in other words, a good, brave and loyal lord will have no chance to recruit an evil, cowardly and treacherous one (though in this particular example, you may wonder why you’d ever want to…). However, it is precisely the fact that every character but one is recruitable that, in a way, works (in my opinion) to its disadvantage: it makes waging war a waste of time. Anyone you’re fighting is anyone you could be recruiting (even if you don’t currently have a character capable of doing so). This makes Doomdark’s Revenge less involving in terms of strategy than Lords of Midnight, where waging war and plotting a good strategy was necessary, and a big part of the game — even if you happened to be trying for Morkin’s “destroy the Ring Ice Crown” quest.

Also, some features appear to be unfinished or at least useless, such as the weapons and items you can pick up (I don’t think I ever used them to any actual effect), or the underground tunnels, which (with the exception of one of them, needed to get to the otherwise unreachable place where Morkin was captive) had little or no use.

Another feature I miss from LoM is that lords used to fight enemy armies; here they just fight other lords (though they can be killed by armies). It was fun to hear, in the after-battle report, that “Luxor slew one hundred and twenty of the enemy. His riders slew…” 🙂

Anyway, as with virtually every Spectrum game, you can get it (legally) at World of Spectrum. I also recommend Chris Wild’s excellent Doomdark’s Revenge resource.

12 thoughts on “TGomL: Doomdark’s Revenge (ZX Spectrum, 1984)”

  1. Truly an amazing game. I remember that once I managed to have a row of lords covering the entire width of the map (64 squares) and moved them all up one square or two every turn until I found Shareth and slew her. This was already on the PC, so I could save and load easily, but it still took me at least a couple of days. Nevertheless, it was the greatest sense of accomplishment I ever got from a Speccy game… until I beat Manic Miner without losing a single life, but that was a few years later.

  2. I loved this game. As far as I remembered it, the tunnels could be used to safely hide your armies, or indeed the vital characters such as Luxor from Shareth. You could also use the strategy of rescuing Morkin via a tunnel in the top North East corner of the map. Sending Tarithel on that quest whilst you searched for the Spell of Thigrorn whose power is in Swiftness, which magically transported you to Morkin without the need of the tunnel quest, was a good strategy. Each character had their own weapon or item. They could use it to max their mental and physical health once each game. Swopping weapons and getting them all to the right people was also a strategy. Using the tunnels and dawn spells, you could cover a good portion of the map in very few days, if you knew the route. This was good to know when sending the crown to where ever you have stashed Luxor. The crown when used by him, brought all is armies to him at once. It was good to do this when Tarithel had reruited Morkin and Avalon next to Shareths City in the North (only accessible via the tunnel in the North East). I really do miss playing this masterpiece of a game :):) … thanks for the article.

    1. Ah, there’s another cunning but risky way to get to the plains of Anvoril (i.e. where Morkin is). Right next to the frozen wastes that surround them there’s an Ice Lord’s fortress. If Tarithel attacks it she gets kicked out in a random direction, often right across the frozen wastes. Finding and using the Spell of Thigrorn is preferable, though, as it also makes Tarithel better at recruiting people.

  3. After Lords of Midnight’s huge impact on me, I was so eager of Doomdark’s Revenge release that I remember I bought it previously than it was available in Portugal, during a summer holiday in which I came across Gibraltar, and therefore was one of the first Portuguese to ever try it.
    Some years later (yes, I really stated years!) I got through the mammoth task of creating the full map by running through the whole landscape with some characters and hiding Luxor in a cave (hence the usefulness of these is not entirely neglectible) and I still keep the large square-matrix paper with the colour-coded squares as a reminder of this effort and the commitment that passion can bring along.
    The lesson to learn is that for full commitment achievement we have to add some passion to the motivations. This is the only reason that I can find to justify, after all this time, the occasional “googling” of Icemark-related entries to see what’s going around, and fortunately, there is still plenty going around…

  4. Much more replayable than LOM, which never changed once you’d mastered it. The real downside of DR for me was the character/place names which aren’t nearly as memorable as those used in LOM.

    The items are usable but generally not worth the effort. The crowns are epic though – I think it’s Luxor and Morkin who can use them to summon all of your characters to their location. Great way of summoning everyone at the last minute for the final battle. There’s also an item which makes you immortal, so that’s kinda handy 🙂

  5. Wish I could get behind this game, but the lack of meaningful combat (since you always can recruit instead of fight you enemies, almost no combat is meaningful) and the lack of progress-reports as to what’s happening elsewhere, takes away a lot that was good about LoM.

    I would much prefer a system where only some of the peoples of the Icemark are recruitable, and anyone who is already loyal to Shareth as impossible to recruit. Progress reports as to where fighting is taking place would also be great.

    1. I found that if you left it too late the Icelords would get organised into groups and that would make recruiting them difficult if not impossible. However, there’s a way to get into the Frozen Empire very quickly and then it’s not nearly so hard to get a few Icelords on their own.

  6. There are actually two tunnels into Morkin’s enclave. Everyone uses the pit in the far NE, but there is a Gate on the NE edge of the Forest of Farorn near the City of Lorelorn. It’s tricky because at some point along that tunnel it branches off to the west and you can easily miss the turn. It then brings you out inside the enclave but then you have to somehow get past the fortress of Anvireon the Icelord (unless you’ve brought an appropriate recruiter with you – he won’t listen to Tarithel)

    Also it really sucks if Shareth finds the Runes of Finorn, because then she is unkillable (as is anyone holding them)

    Still fire this game up once in a while – 35 years later!!!

    1. I have it through the marvin app on my phone, so it’s the original Spectrum version. It’s about all I play and still love it. I’ve always found Anvireon happy to be recruited by Tarithel, but I tend to send her up there with the swiftness spell.

  7. After all these years I am almost at a point where I have a fairly set ‘strategy’ for DDR (in my mind the best game ever made, with the possible exception of early mario kart versions or Goldeneye).
    I tend to send Luxor up and see how many Barbarians he can befriend then send him across to Varatarg’s fort that has been decimated by Imulorn and Thormad, so that Luxor can breeze in and have a base that is generating more troops for him. Luxor flies up recruiting barbarians and maybe a few giants on the way. In the standard special items distribution, the crown of varenard will be in the palace in the forest of farorn. Rothron jogging up to get it gives him an almost irresistible charm when recruiting! He is always a bit vulnerable though. Tarithel does Imothorn and back for Carorthand. she then uses a bit of dawn magic to get Thormand and Imulorn in the same day en route to try Torelorn and on up to Glormane. North of Glormane to the NE of more dawn giving stones should be the crown of Imiriel. Tarithel takes this and heads into Icelord territory and tries to recruit as many baddies as she can. Between her and Rothron, you may get enough armies together to ambush Shareth while she’s still hanging around at Glireon’s. Tarithel then has to link up with Imorthorn as he will have gone down recruiting Fey to the SE of his pad. He picks up the spell of thigrorn which is in a tower to the East of Lorangriel’s City. He can give this to Tarithel if she isn’t carrying or you have to swap it for another item that is still unclaimed on the map and do a bit of a trade that way. She transports up to Morkin and will sit there while Shareth gets what’s coming to her. Rothron swaps the crown with Luxor, he swaggers off back to the gates where he started, uses the crown (do this one step away from the gates and send in an expendable lord first. It’s a shame to go through all of that just to get killed by dragons!!!) and you are the ultimate winner.
    The great thing about the game is that loads can go wrong along the way. Characters get killed or items picked up by enemies. You recruit Carangrane, but aren’t quick enough with him, so every giant in the land is suddenly after Rothron as their leige has transferred to him.
    Tarithel lands on Morkin with the spell, but she is too exhausted to move, so they fight instead, Morkin gets flung into the wide world and you have to try and find him using towers and get Tarithel back to luxor quick before he kills his own son in battle (it has happened to me recently).
    Bloody love the game!!!
    The worst thing about it is the key set up, especially when it’s condensed to a phone. The ease of hitting Save and losing the game you’re playing can be wildly frustrating.
    Like Portugese Pedro above, I mapped out the whole thing (I was being made redundant at my last job, but still had to go in, so I just did that all day on an Excel sheet) every location and what you could you expect to find.
    No two games you play are the same. The quickest i have completed it with the highest victory is 21 days after a particularly eager Shareth threw herself at Luxor’s massed armies and died. I’ve also spent about 80 days trying to kill the hag and bouncing her all over the Icemark whilst she refuses to die.
    The next game I could be dead on day two by wolves or be harrassed by Barbarians and lose all of Luxor’s troops before he has a chance to take a fort or city and have to try and shield him for the entire game.
    Bring it on.

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